Environment

Alberta transitions environmental regulation to industry-backed group

The Alberta Energy Regulator is tasked with approving oil, gas and coal permits, and is fully funded by those industries

An aerial photo shows the tar sands in Alberta, from where the Keystone XL would transport oil.
Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

Alberta, Canada has begun to shut down one of its energy and environmental regulators, replacing it with a group tasked with many of the same powers but completely funded by the oil, gas and coal industries.

At least 75 environmental officers formerly employed by Alberta's government left this fall, and another 75 or so are expected to leave in the coming months and join the new regulator, according to the Edmonton Journal. The government also began handing over thousands of pages of regulations to the new Alberta Energy Regulator, which is now charged with overseeing the conservation of water and land in Alberta, while also promoting the economic benefits associated with oil, gas and coal production.

Oil and gas permits used to be doled out by two regulators, including the Energy Resources Conservation Board. That board, which was funded partially by taxpayers and partially by the industry, is now being phased out thanks to a law passed last spring meant to streamline industry regulation.

The new organization will get all of its funding from levying fees on oil and gas companies.  

While it will be staffed by many regulators formerly paid by the state, environmentalists are voicing concern that the new body could be too close to the industry it is meant to oversee.

"This is just another step going down this road — we now have a regulator whose prime mandate in legislation is to promote economic development, and it is now also the prime environmental enforcer in the oilpatch," New Democrat legislative member Rachel Notley told the Edmonton Journal.

Critics have also pointed out that the regulators will be in charge of handing out penalties to the same companies that are now fully funding their salaries.

They've also questioned why Gerry Protti, one of the founders of an oil industry lobbying group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, was chosen to be the chief executive of the new regulator.

Protti isn't the only one drawing skepticism. Jim Ellis, a former deputy minister of the environment in Alberta, will be the organization's chief executive. Ellis was revealed in court this year to have criticized environmental groups for portraying Canada's tar sands developments in a negative light.

Alberta has been under the spotlight  since energy corporation TransCanada proposed the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil extracted from Alberta's tar sands to the U.S. Environmental groups in the U.S. and Canada have fought against the pipeline, which they say would dramatically increase carbon emissions in North America.

Indigenous groups also say the pipeline will cause environmental destruction on their lands.

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